INDIANAPOLIS – For every team in the NFL, dealing with a short week of playing on a Thursday happens once a season.
The Indianapolis Colts (5-3) are in the midst of that challenge this week after coming off an emotional 23-20 victory over Miami, a game that included locker room visits before and afterward by Head Coach Chuck Pagano. Pagano is battling leukemia and has not directed the Colts in person since late September.
The celebration of a three-game winning streak was short-lived as now the Colts travel to Jacksonville to meet the 1-7 Jaguars.
It is an opportunity for the Colts to avenge their lone home loss of 2012. Jacksonville earned a 22-17 victory in Indianapolis on September 23. The second series meeting means there will be a familiarity between the clubs as they kickoff Thursday at 8:20 p.m.
Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said the Colts have not changed much since the teams' first meeting, but he did offer a few reasons on why Indianapolis has won its last three games.
"I think (Andrew) Luck is obviously playing better," Mularkey said. "I know they're motivated by the situation with Chuck (Pagano), who I have a lot of respect for and admire immensely."
"Reggie Wayne is playing at the top of his game due to a lot of reasons, but he's playing extremely well. I just think they are really rallying around the situation there. It's a big motivating factor. They are playing at a high level, high intensity, high effort level."
Road teams this season are just 2-6 on Thursday night when dealing with a short week. The Colts have won seven straight Thursday games, but nearly half the roster will play two games in four days for the first time in the NFL.
Luck has picked the brains of Colts veterans this week in learning how to prepare successfully on a short week. The Jaguars' defense will be the first unit he has seen twice during his short NFL career.
"A very tough, hard-nosed team, very disciplined defensively," Luck said of the Jaguars. "I thought they did a good job of creating turnovers. I know we turned the ball over at a couple inopportune times. We know it's going to be a tough test down at their place, a tough division game."
There are not many teams as disciplined as the Jaguars in the NFL as they rank second in the league in fewest penalties.
Offensively, the Jaguars have found success converting red zone opportunities into points. Jacksonville is the only team in the NFL to have a perfect conversion rate in the red zone (15 trips, 15 scores).
The Jaguars currently are dealing without the services of Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
In the team's first meeting, Jones-Drew had 177 yards rushing against the Colts. He will not play on Thursday night because of a foot injury.
Backup Rashad Jennings is expected to get the start and provides a similar power element, recording more than 100 yards from scrimmage in two of the past three games for the Jaguars.
"They still have a good back in Rashad Jennings, a big back," Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. "He comes downhill. I don't think their game plan will change at all. I think they'll do the same thing as if they had MJD back there. We just have to come out prepared like we've been doing."
It all starts with stopping the run for the Colts, and that is something that did not happen in the first meeting between the teams.
The Colts led 14-3 at halftime back on September 23 before Jones-Drew ripped off a 59-yard touchdown run on the Jaguars' first offensive play of the second half.
Colts players admitted they should have finished off that game and will look to split the season series on Thursday.
"It was one of those games that got away from us," defensive end Cory Redding said. "At the end of the day, they made plays and we still at that point were making little mistakes, beating ourselves. (We) have definitely come a long way since that game and learned a lot from that game. Hopefully, we'll carry those lessons from that game down to Jacksonville and have a different outcome."
A win would give the Colts their first four-game winning streak since 2010 and their first back-to-back divisional road wins in three years.
Bethea was a part of both of those milestones and said getting back to winning way was never questioned inside the Colts' locker room.
"A lot of people kind of doubted us. We've surprised a lot of people. I'm not saying I'm surprised," Bethea said.
"The system that was brought in – BA (Bruce Arians) coming from Pittsburgh, just seeing their offenses do wonderful things in the past couple of years; the defensive schemes similar to Baltimore (Chuck Pagano) and San Francisco (Greg Manusky) doing wonderful things. I feel as though when everyone came in here and we bought into the systems that we would be fine. Don't beat ourselves and we'll be fine. That's what we're doing now."
Jaguars 22, Colts 17 – September 23, 2012
In the Colts' first AFC South game of 2012, the Jaguars escaped from Indianapolis with a final-minute comeback victory, 22-17. Jacksonville got things started on the opening possession of the game with a drive that consumed 7:47 and ended in a Josh Scobee 44-yard field goal. Indianapolis responded with a 74-yard drive in just six plays as quarterback Andrew Luck found wide receiver T.Y. Hilton for a 40-yard touchdown, the first of his NFL career. The second quarter was relatively quite until the Colts padded their 7-3 lead just prior to halftime. Taking over with 5:30 left in the first half, Luck and the offense drove 80 yards in 14 plays, finished off by a Mewelde Moore four-yard touchdown reception. The Colts led 14-3 at halftime and got the ball to start the second half, but a punt followed by a penalty set up the Jaguars at their own 41-yard line. On the first play of the drive, running back Maurice Jones-Drew ran 59 yards for a touchdown to bring the Jaguars within four points. The teams traded punts on the next two possessions before the Colts took over on their own 36-yard line with 8:20 left in the third quarter. On a first-and-10 from the Indianapolis 49-yard line, Luck's pass was picked off by Jacksonville linebacker Paul Posluszny. The Jaguars turned the takeaway into a 47-yard field goal by Scobee, cutting the lead to 14-13. Scobee would add another field goal early in the fourth quarter, giving Jacksonville its first lead of the game, 16-14, with 11:02 remaining. The Colts answered with a drive of more than six minutes, but Adam Vinatieri could not connect on a 36-yard field goal. Indianapolis forced a three-and-out, but the offense sputtered and had to punt with 2:10 remaining. The Colts defense once again forced a Jacksonville punt before the offense took over from its 33-yard line with 1:33 left. A 39-yard completion to running back Donald Brown put the Colts in field goal range and Vinatieri hit a 37-yarder to give Indianapolis a 17-16 lead with 56 seconds remaining. However, the lead would not last, with Jacksonville making the play of the game on the first snap of the ensuing possession. Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert found wide receiver Cecil Shorts for an 80-yard touchdown right down the middle of the field. Another late comeback for the Colts was not there, as the Jaguars batted down a final pass from their 26-yard line. Indianapolis fell, 22-17, heading into the bye week.
*Jaguars rushing attack versus the Colts defense: *Maurice Jones-Drew had 177 yards rushing against the Colts back in September, but his foot injury rules him out for Thursday night's contest. Backup Rashad Jennings brings a similar power element to the table but has not had the same production of Jones-Drew the past few weeks. Facing another physical matchup on Thursday, the Colts' front seven will be tested trying to stop the run. The rush defense has improved the past few weeks in shutting down opposing ground attacks.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck versus Jaguars defense: Andrew Luck has completed half of his rookie campaign and is coming off the best game of his short career. The 433 passing yards he had last Sunday against Miami set a rookie NFL record, but it was his efficiency on third down that proved to be the difference in the victory over the Dolphins. In Luck's first meeting with Jacksonville, he threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns but will look to avenge a third quarter interception and a completion percentage of 47.8 percent (his only performance under 50 percent all year).
The Colts are 7-4 all-time on the road against the Jaguars.
The Colts are looking to break a three-game losing streak against the Jaguars.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is looking to become the first rookie in NFL history to record five 300-yard passing games.
Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne leads the NFL in receiving yards with 835. His 61 catches are one behind the league lead, but Wayne has played one less game than Minnesota's Percy Harvin (62).
Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis can surpass his personal record with a sack in a ninth consecutive game played.
Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts has 23 receptions on the season. Nine of those have gone for at least 20 yards.
The Jaguars have eight plays of 30-plus yards through eight games.
Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey has five sacks and three forced fumbles in his last three games against the Colts.
Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee has made 20 straight field goals.
Jaguars offensive guard Uche Nwaneri played his college football at Purdue.
Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis and Colts offensive tackle Winston Justice were high school teammates at Long Beach Poly High School.
Colts Interim Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians(on what grade he gives Andrew Luck):
"Probably an 'A.' There are only a few throws he'd like to have back, probably. His overall performance has been outstanding. He's kept us in games. He's won games. The way he has played in the two-minute phase of the game and the no-huddle phase now has been way beyond his years. I thought the last two games, he's been dynamite on third down. That was one of the areas we were targeting to improve. We really need to improve in the red zone as an offense. That's about the only area of statistics we're in the bottom. We need to improve that area."
Colts Interim Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians(on if the short week can be taxing from a physical standpoint):
"There's no doubt. The recovery time from Sunday to Thursday is ridiculous, especially after playing a very physical game, and then to have to travel. When you add the travel in, you may get some swelling out of your body, but on that airplane, you're going to swell right back up. It's just happened too many times. I've seen guys that go in the game, get off the flight, and can't walk. The traveling part of it is an added problem to an injury. It's tough. The mental part of it it's taxing on us also. We just started our meetings for Wednesday. We're in a special teams meeting right now. We'll get through our Wednesday practice today. As a coaching staff, it'll be Thursday at 7:00 for us in the game. We'll take that into tomorrow, which will be a combination of Thursday/Friday practice, have another walkthrough on Wednesday and then jump on the plane."
Colts Interim Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians(on the fact that the Jaguars have only one win and might be a "wounded animal"):
"There's no doubt. This is a division game. With this team, there have been some great games over the years, especially there. It's a division game, on the road, and it's the next one up. It's a short week and our guys need to know, and they will know in about 20 minutes, how important it's going to be."
Colts safety Antoine Bethea(on if this team is playing with an edge with all these close wins):
"Close wins, if we keep winning and get to the playoffs, that's what playoff ball is about – close wins, playing 60 minutes. Hopefully, we won't have as many close games as we had in the first half of the year. Hopefully, it can pay dividends toward the end of the year."
Colts outside linebacker Dwight Freeney(on how proud of team for hanging tough)
"I'm very proud. I'm definitely not satisfied, but proud to say, 'You know, we're in a good space. We're in the hunt.' With all the change that's happened, all the first-year guys here and all the injuries and the coach not being here and be in the conversation of playoffs, it sounds pretty good. That being said, it's not over yet. We're not patting anybody on the back around here. I'm used to 10 wins a season and being in the playoffs. That's what we're used to and until we get to that point, I won't be happy."
Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey(on message to team in a short week):
"Obviously, get over the last one as quickly as you can. I think it's good that we actually have a game to get right back into it and, hopefully, get that bad taste out of our mouth which we've had for a number of weeks now. We're at the halfway point. We've been down at halftime. We were down against the Colts at halftime last time we played them and came back and won. And I said that's kind of where we are in our season. We are down. We've got to find out a lot about ourselves, as coaches as well. Everybody's involved to see what we're made of. No threats of evaluating this and that and watch your job. We have guys playing with great effort. We're just lacking consistency with our execution because there are flashes of things that we're doing very well. It's just not very consistent."
Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey(on if has taken the approach to adjusting to life without Maurice Jones-Drew):
"We haven't used any of that this whole time. I'm not going to start now. There's a lot of guys that I have a lot of respect for on this team that are team leaders that are in street clothes right now. He's one of them. We have to have guys, and they do it every week all around the league, that step in and compete and execute to still give teams chances to win. We'd love to have him, obviously. He wants to be out there, but it is what it is. He's not the only guy that we're missing this whole year. Our leader on our defense, one of our leaders, one of our top players hasn't played a game this year. He's been missed with Daryl Smith. He's our MJD on defense. If we execute, we're capable. We didn't have MJD in training camp and in those preseason games when we were playing ones on ones and we did some good things then. We know we can move the ball without him. We don't want to do it without, him but we know we're capable."
Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey(on play of quarterback Blaine Gabbert):
"I think he's improved from where he was last year. I've seen a steady improvement. Our quarterback coach Greg Olson has done a really remarkable job with him. There's a lot of room still to grow. He has done some good things in his moments. The consistency part of it, that's something we are still working on. He was one of our most improved players coming out of training camp after what he went through last year. The criticism, the remarks about him, to stand tall and come here and not let it affect his play and try and get better has been pretty impressive on his part."
Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert(on dealing with a challenging season):
"It boils down on offense that we're not executing at the level that we need to, to win football games. It comes down to the players on the field. When plays are there to be made, we have to make them. You saw that last week in the first half. We had poor execution on third down, therefore, I think we only had 12 plays going into that last two-minute drive. Then in the second half, I think we were six-of-seven on third downs and when you execute on third downs and execute consistently throughout drives, you're going to have success."
Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert(on if embraces or avoids "spoiler role" tag):
"You don't worry about that. You have to have a week-to-week focus in the NFL because everybody is talented, and they are playing great football right now. Andrew (Luck) is doing a great job and he had a big game last week, but we're worrying about the things that we can control in this building, and that's going out to practice with the right mindset, working hard every day and just getting better."